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First drive: Porsche 911 Targa 4S

2008-10-27 13:49

Angus Thompson, topCar

Porsche’s new 997 Targa is more than a production milestone marking the fastest generation change in 911 family history. It’s still a template for future sports cars.

For all its clever new tech, the new 911 Targa has not been diluted. One feels its chassis is steeped in years of race-bred development, never clouding an underlying purity and successful balance of power and control, comfort and dynamism.  

There’s a strong, tactile connection to the Targa’s front end, hugely reassuring in slippery conditions, as are the optional ceramic brakes which work a treat and don’t require the usual high pedal pressures.

Switch the (R22 950 option) Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system from Normal to sharper Sport and eventually to the sharpest Sport Plus mode and with each driving mode there is an audible and tactile leap as the revs pick up, shift points rise, and the ride height drops (by 10mm) and firms up.

The car feels solid and poised, helped by the new Porsche Traction Management (PTM) four-wheel drive system. It’s an update of the previous Targa’s viscous coupled multiple-plate clutch, now replaced with a faster acting electromagnetic version that first featured on the 911 Turbo. It works in tandem with a limited-slip rear differential giving 22% lock on traction and 27% on overrun.

Distributing power and torque equally front to rear under normal driving, it takes more to the front when pulling off to limit wheelspin, sends more to the front when oversteer is monitored or more to the rear during understeer.

Clever PDK

The other clever piece of kit is the seven speed double-clutch transmission, or PDK, adds nothing to the price of a manual version Targa, and if you tick the Sports Chrono Plus Package option (R16 230) it comes with a Launch Control function which snips 0.2 seconds off 0-100km/h acceleration times, says Porsche.

Unlike other manufacturers who dial in a Nasa style launch sequence, it’s easy to use: hold the brake, push the throttle and release for fast, effective and very repeatable results.

The beauty of the PDK box is that it works equally seamlessly on the daily commute. Progress in traffic is effortless, almost undetectable gear changes all to the ticking flutter of its low-rev exhaust note.

But higher up the rev range, the Targa exhales a meaty drone, burbling and blipping through each cog swap in the surge from apex to apex.

My only gripe is the less than intuitive paddle controls mounted either side of the steering wheel. I never quite got the hang of it, preferring to use the selector lever in the centre console for manual inputs that were as sharp and instantaneous as those from a sequential box on a Porsche cup car.

For the 997 generation, both the 3614cc (Targa 4) and 3800cc (Targa 4S) flat six powerplants now feature direct fuel injection and offer 8.5% more power and 13.6% lower CO2 emissions. Fuel consumption is down 11.2% (a significant 1.3l/100km) on PDK-equipped cars compared to the previous Tiptronic variants.

The extra power can be put to good use too, with Porsche claiming a 5.0sec 0-100km/h for the Targa 4 and a 4.7sec for the 4S. So yes, this car pedals, and engagingly so. But it’s also a car with a split personality.

It takes just seven seconds for the glass roof to slide beneath the tailgate and let the world into the cabin. This car is not a cabriolet, not a coupé, but combines the best of both.

Split screen

The 1.54 metre expanse of Sundim glass on the roof, the ‘shield’ which is the English translation of Targa, slides into the tailgate to bring the outside in; or closed, lets in the light but protects passengers from heat and UV, allowing the aircon to keep cabin temperatures under control even in bright summer sun.

The cabin exudes quality, every detail thought through and centred around the driver. Porsche has moved with interior trends and enhanced the display and control elements of its PCM (Porsche Control Management) system which serves as the central control unit for all audio (iPod, MP3 and USB compatible) and communication (satellite navigation) devices.

While the Targa may not draw as much visual attention as an R8 or a GT-R, you know the step changes under the skin have been solidly engineered. More than that, it retains the key hallmarks of its predecessors: aggression, purity and balance. Prices start at R1 275 000 for the manual Targa 4 and R 1 375 000 for the Targa 4S and both are on sale from this month.

For a full driving review of the new Targa from its international launch in Italy, read the December issue of Topcar magazine. On sale 17 November.

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